In February 2020 the Andhra Pradesh government issued a government order, G.O. No. 72, relating to a Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) for an extent of 6116.50 acres in 10 mandals abutting Visakhapatnam city. Among the lands sought to be acquired under the LPS are 2552.33 acres of assigned land and an extent of 2343.98 acres of occupied land. The G.O. envisages giving 900 square yards to those holding assigned lands, and 450 square yards to those in possession of government land for over ten years and 250 square yards to those in possession of the land for more than five years. The G.O. goes on to state that 15 per cent of the total land acquired will be with the Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Authority (VMRDA) ostensibly to meet the expenses of development.
People in possession of these assigned lands along with various civil society organizations have decried the government’s move. In the name of facilitating housing and house-sites for the poor, the government is attempting to take away lands that belong to the poor. In effect, this would deprive the poor and marginalized of their livelihood.
While the process appears to be pro-poor, in reality, it only undermines their means of survival. They are tilling land occupied by the poor (predominantly small, marginal farmers, most of them Dalits) for subsistence. How are they to survive, if this land is taken away from them? And a small chunk is given in return? It would do well to remember that fair extents of these assigned lands are already in possession of the well-connected rich. Various political leaders have grabbed not just that, but also large extents of government land. Two SITs have gone into the matter of such illegalities but to no avail.
If the government seeks to acquire land for housing, and handing over house-sites to the poor, it would do well to do so under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013. Here too, it would be proper and just to leave the land on which the poor rely. Instead, take over extents that are in plain encroachment by the rich and powerful.